Mariko Kipchumba will return to defend his title at the Beijing Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Saturday (17).
The 42-year-old Kenyan veteran, who ran down runners nearly half his age to take the title in the Chinese capital one year ago, will be gunning to become just the fourth man to successfully defend the Beijing crown.
Kipchumba, who has a solid 2:06:05 career best to his credit from 2012, won here last year in 2:11:00 but his form this weekend will be shrouded in mystery given he hasn't raced over the distance since his modest eighth place showing at the Shanghai Marathon last November.
Eight men under 2:10
Besides the defending champion, seven other men have run under 2:10, promising a competitive race.
Mesfin Teshome of Ethiopia arrives with a 2:09:24 personal best set in Dubai in January where he finished tenth.
Ethiopian Feyera Gemeda has run well this year, especially so in China. The 34-year-old has twice lowered his personal best in 2016, most recently in May when he clocked 2:09:42 in Dongying to finish fourth. He also produced his half marathon best in China, clocking 1:00:29 in Yangzhou.
Meanwhile, Edwin Kangogo Kimaiyo of Kenya produced his 2:09:47 best in Enschede in 2015 while 36-year-old Beraki Beyene of Eritrea set his 2:08:27 best in Hengshui in 2014.
Mazuronak doubles back from Rio
On paper, Meseret Mengistu, the 2015 Paris Marathon winner, leads the women's field. The 26-year-old Ethiopian made a notable breakthrough in the French capital last year with her 2:23:25 performance. But like Kipchumba, she’s raced sparingly this year.
Mengistu is one of four women in the field who have sub-2:26 performances to their credit, most notable of which is Volha Mazuronak of Belarus.
The 27-year-old returns to action just five weeks after her fifth place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where she clocked 2:24:48. The former race walker --Mazuronak was fifth in the 10,000m race walk at the 2006 IAAF World Junior Championships-- has a career best of 2:23:54 from April's London Marathon where she was fourth.
Melkam Gizaw is another threat. The Ethiopian improved to 2:24:28 in Seoul in March and is targeting her first marathon victory since her October 2015 win in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Incentive? Gizaw will celebrate her 26th birthday on race day.
Others to watch include Souad Ait Salem of Algeria, who has a 2:25:08 best from 2007 and Ethiopia's Fantu Jimma, who clocked a near-personal best of 2:26:53 in Xiamen in January.
The men's course record of 2:07:16 was set by Tadese Tola of Ethiopia in 2013. China's Sun Yingjie set the women's mark of 2:19:39 in 2003.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF